CAMBODIA is prepared to send trained counterterrorism police abroad to fight global threats, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday, a statement that drew praise from international partners even as they expressed concern about Cambodia’s own “porous borders”.
Speaking at the opening of the new headquarters for the secretariat of the National Counterterrorism Committee (NCTC), the premier said Cambodian personnel are ready to cooperate with other countries as part of joint operations to fight terrorism.
“If necessary, Cambodian forces could join in operations with international partners in fighting against terrorism. Cambodia is ready to join in all operations,” Hun Sen said.
“The government of Cambodia considers terrorism to be most cruel; it causes the deaths of all races of human beings.”
Cambodian police officials have received counterterrorism training in recent years, but so far have not participated in specific operations. Hun Sen compared such a step to Cambodian armed forces’ demonstrated willingness to participate in United Nations-led peacekeeping missions.
Hun Sen also called on authorities to boost training in counterterrorism measures as well as efforts to prevent domestic attacks, though he acknowledged that the Kingdom is not considered a “major destination” for such strikes.
“Cambodia is prepared to fight against terrorism for the protection of the Cambodian people,” he said.
Hun Sen’s comments provide further evidence of his continued public eagerness to participate in international counterterrorism efforts.
But although the premier’s focus on terrorism may be worthwhile, said one analyst, it remains unclear whether it can be truly effective, or if it is designed merely to solicit the approval of the international community.
“On one hand, I’m not sure how effective these measures will be, whether the money is going to be well spent,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights. “There tends to be a lot more form than substance in Cambodia, and this could be one example.”
And Cambodia’s interest in counterterrorism may not stem solely from a fear of specific threats, suggested a report released last year by RAND, a US think tank.
“Cambodia has been an eager US partner in the global war on terror, an engagement that is motivated less by any inherent concern about the threats posed by international terrorism and more by a desire to reintegrate the state into the international community,” the report stated.
The Kingdom’s “ardent” support, the report notes, has been rewarded with the inflow of hundreds of thousands of dollars in US Department of Defence funding.
Although Cambodia possesses “many of the attributes of a terrorist-friendly nation”, including lax border control and corruption, international threats in the country remain “minimal”, the report stated.
This has been attributed to Cambodia’s willingness to crack down on suspected extremists while taking care not to trigger backlashes in disaffected communities.
However, the report warned that the Kingdom remains hindered by “pervasive and endemic corruption”, unimplemented legislation on money
laundering and a poorly financed financial investigation unit.
“Until these gaps are addressed, Cambodia will remain susceptible as a potential springboard for harbouring and facilitating terrorist ... designs,” the report stated.
However, representatives from foreign embassies whose governments have been involved in training Cambodian forces on Wednesday welcomed what they saw as a sign of commitment to improving counterterrorism measures.
“Terrorism is a threat throughout the world,” Fiona Cochaud, deputy head of mission for the Australian embassy, said in a statement.
“The Australian Government welcomes Cambodia’s commitment to strengthening its capacity to deter and manage the threat of international terrorism.”
US authorities also welcomed Hun Sen’s stance, though they noted that domestic concerns remain.
“The Cambodian government has been a strong partner in terms of counterterrorism,” US Embassy spokesman John Johnson said in a statement. “Cambodia’s porous borders are a concern not just for terrorism but also in terms of transnational crime and narcotics trafficking. We are therefore engaged with the Royal Government at all levels to help strengthen Cambodia’s maritime and land border security.”